Volunteering in the British Wilderness
03 Mar 2010
Shanna Jones writes about her travels from Shropshire to the remote village of Inverie on Knoydart, in the Scottish highlands.
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It took me 11 long hours to travel from Shropshire to the remote village of Inverie on Knoydart, in the Scottish highlands. Supposedly Britain’s last wilderness, this peninsula is only accessible by boat from the small fishing village of Mallaig, or via a 20-mile hike through mountains. A wonderful area for walking and camping, this is truly a place to go if people need to get away from it all. However, I was not on a leisurely holiday.
A few months earlier, I replied to an advertisement in Positive News that was asking for helpers to join an ecobuild — an on-going home renovation project at Joiner’s Croft. I had expected it to be remote but this was really something!
The house is designed to be as ecologically friendly as possible. It will have an oak and elm frame, with stone and log cladding over Hempcrete walls — a concrete-like material made from hemp — and a turf roof. There will also be a composting toilet and a wind turbine.
Before I volunteered, I could not have known less about building — being at a loose end about the definition of items such as a ‘2 by 4′ — a piece of wood, as I found out! I was even taught how to bang a nail in properly by a fellow volunteer, who was there as part of his training for a joinery qualification.
To make the walls, temporary panelling was built a foot away from the original stone. Next, the Hempcrete was mixed and poured into the gap. Once dry, the panels were removed and voil‡, a wall!
While I was working there, the house was without most of its roof or flooring. It was frightening and exhilarating to be on top of a wild cliff above the powerful Scottish sea. Looking out towards the not-too-distant Isle of Skye and Sound of Sleat, I felt a real sense of wilderness and adventure. The work was tough but satisfying to see it all come together.
While I was working for the family, I also helped to teach their three boys, who enjoy an exciting and varied home education. I had an indepth view into their lifestyle and found it fascinating to see the amount of activities they took part in: from fizzing chemistry experiments, to coracling on the loch, in small home-made boats. We certainly had a lot of fun!
The youngest of the three, Coll, was diagnosed with Autism in 2003. Parents, Kath and Toby Robinson, decided to try an American Autism programme called Son-Rise’. This approach focuses on encouragement, unconditional love and acceptance, emphasising the importance of attitude and respect for who the child is and any behaviours they display.
The programme was founded by the Kaufman family, who were informed by medical authorities that the condition of their son, Raun, was hopeless. However, the Kaufmans refused to give up. Seeing their child as different and unique, they chose to celebrate his specialness instead. Today, Raun holds a university degree in biomedical ethics and is truly grateful that his parents chose not to listen to the doctors.
Being a builder, dad Toby has made Coll a playroom, designed specifically to cater for the Son-Rise approach. The amenity has been invaluable and Coll has since begun to talk and interact on a basic level with people around him.
Toby and Kath Robinson are always on the look out for volunteers, whether temporary or long-term. They will cover your travel costs and accommodation is provided.
Contact: Katherine and Toby Robinson,
Joiner’s Croft, Knoydart, Mallaig,
Inverness-shire, PH41 4PL
Knoydart, on the fringes of
northwest Scotland, is a peninsula
that even in the 21st Century remains
so isolated, that a road has yet to be built
Photo: © Toby Robinson
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